While I was doing some vegetation monitoring in a native hay meadow this morning, I found a bobolink nest.
If you’re not familiar with grassland nesting birds, the idea of building a nest right on the ground might seem pretty silly and dangerous. However, while a predator doesn’t have to fly or climb into a tree to get to the eggs, it still has to find them, and that can be pretty difficult when the nest is out in the middle of a large grassland. To illustrate how well hidden the above nest was, here is a series of photos taken at various heights above it.
The only reason I found the nest is that I crouched down in the vegetation a few feet from the nest to examine the plants in my plot frame. About a minute later, the female bobolink fluttered out of the nest. She must have waited anxiously as long as she could stand it, but my continued presence that close to the nest finally flushed her – allowing her to fly to safety but exposing the location of her nest. Fortunately for her and her unborn chicks I took only photographs. I wish her the best with her family, including one (so far) cowbird.
(For those of you who might not know the story of brown-headed cowbirds, they are brood parasites who drop their eggs in the nests of other bird species. Those host birds then raise the cowbird young – often at the expense of their own. This is a host-parasite relationship that has been going on for thousands of years in North American prairies.)